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United in Christ? United in faith? Unionized?

Photo: Elliot Brown/Twitter

It’s no secret: ordained ministry can be difficult. It can be a lonely vocation, and one that calls priests and pastors to places of vulnerability, and in some cases, treatment and standards that would not be tolerated in the corporate world.

And now, as reported by the London Free Press, “a group of United Church ministers has teamed up with Canada’s largest private-sector union to create Unifaith, the nation’s first union for clergy.”

While I’m sure the news might surprise many Anglicans, the concept is anything but new. Clergy unions have been discussed in this country and around the world for some time, perhaps most recently in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Churches have historically been supporters of trade unions as vehicles for social justice. Many of the relief and justice organization the church supports, like PWRDF, are unionized.

I think the creation of Unifaith could inspire some healthy conversation–for both laypeople and clergy. It’s already inspiring a fair amount of conversation here at the office (and on my screen).

Are clergy employees of the church or servants of Christ? Or both? Is there a difference?

Should clergy expect the same working conditions as secular workers?

What are the grievances of clergy who seek to unionize?

Can a church that has advocated workers’ rights credibly object to their own clergy seeking to organize?

What do you think? Leave your comments below, and let’s continue this discussion together. And no matter your views, I wonder if perhaps we should be asking what conditions brought us to this discussion in the first place?

About The Rev. Jesse Dymond

I'm a priest from the Diocese of Huron, serving as Online Community Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada. I have a lifelong interest in computer technology, and continue to pursue interdisciplinary studies in science and theology. I love composing and performing music, cooking, photography, sailing, and riding vintage motorcycles.
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6 Responses to United in Christ? United in faith? Unionized?

  1. Just trying to think what a 21st C Jesus would say. He would ask why I think.

  2. I think there are deep theological reasons why clergy should resist organising into a union. think there is a problem if clergy adopt an attitude of “I work for Jesus – but only from 9-5!” Also, is organizing into a union in conjunction with another one ultimately stating that God is on the a particular side. After all, if Clergy to strike alongside the Steelworker Union over disputed pay increases, doesn’t that suggest that God does show favourtism, and is on the side of a certain union – which by nature is a political body.

    And what do we do with all the statements via Jesus saying that if there is a disagreement, deal with it privately before going to courts or civic magistrates. How can we model this if we feel the need to strike if we don’t get every fourth Christmas off?

    If push came to shove, I would probably suggest that a union for clergy is partly and abdication of the spirituality of our role in society and the church.

  3. Avatar of Robin Walker

    Kyle says: “a union for clergy is partly and [sic] abdication of the spirituality of our role in society and the church.” Quite so.

    While I substantially agree with Kyle about reasons for not unionizing clergy, it seems to me that we should ask ourselves about why the clergy involved have found it necessary or desirable to take this step. Surely this speaks to a deep dysfunction in clergy/church relationships. The union in question arose in another denomination, but we Anglicans are not so perfect ourselves.

    Without advocating unionization of Anglican clergy, I would instead call for some more consistent and helpful leadership from the wider church. Bishops, parish clergy, and congregations all have much to learn about how to handle the “Human Resources” side of church life.

  4. Avatar of Tony Houghton

    Our Pastors need all the support we can give them ,it is a thankless job but is one with the same amount of responsibility .On pastor once was tempted to put two signs on the pulpit . The side the pastor would see said “Sir ,that we should see Jesus” and on the side facing the congregation “Do you now hate me because I tell you the truth.A bigger question to ask ,should Christian belong to unions seeing what Paul wrote that we are to work as for the Lord and not to take into consideration how we are treated “be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
    willingly serving the Lord and not human beings,”

  5. Dawn Leger

    I’ve never heard a priest say they are only interested in working Monday to Friday, 9-5, or that they want to fight for that. I think it is sad that when clergy speak about rights, or most workers for that matter, we diminish it to issues of convenience. Unions do far more. We are called to deal with one another, but when that fails, when you have gone to one, then gone with three and still mistreatment happens, then where is the court or magistrate? Our bishops, as caring as they are, are not trained in human resources and it is a lot to expect them to have the time let alone the expertise to deal with such situations. My understanding of this community chapter (not union) is a place for clergy to gather and advocate for one another.

    Jesse, thank you for reminding us that, as a church, we have historically been supportive of trade unions and fighting for workers’ rights. Unifaith might not be the right answer, but it is an attempt, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes of it.

  6. Judy Steers

    i am a lay person and I am not opposed to this. It brings to mind the stories of several clergy friends who have unfortunately been treated abominably by congregations and, not quite drummed out of town, but because of differences of approach or opinion, or worse, poisonous environments where the clergy member was ‘set up’ for failture, lost both their livelihood and their home, if they were living in a rectory. So, if a union were able to advocate for the clergy person in such a difficult situation, that would be a good thing. Unfortunately, there are far too many situations where employment standards are not followed by congregations. There are also too many situations where clergy people are consistently expected to work well over 60 or 70 hours per week. Servants of Christ, yes, absolutely (aren’t we all, if we are members of a congregation?) but also, all too often, mis-treated employees of a not-for-profit organization which does not have an excellent track record in human resources management or ethical treatment of workers.

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